I Watched The New Horror Film "Annabelle" From A Feminist Perspective

Sometimes it’s difficult to justify loving horror movies as a feminist.
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Publish date:
October 26, 2014
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feminism, halloween, horror movies, weekend, horror, Annabelle, Conjuring, Feminist Viewing

Halloween season is upon us, and with it comes a new crop of horror movies for us to shudder, cringe, and laugh our way through. Sometimes though, it’s difficult to justify loving horror movies as a feminist.

From the puritanical “rules” of slasher movies to the genre’s frequent dependence on depicting excessive violence against women for scares, horror ranks right up their with twerk music as one of my pop culture loves that I can’t think about in depth, lest I feel too guilty to enjoy it.

But this year, I went ahead and kicked off my seasonal viewing schedule with “Annabelle,” the prequel to James Wan’s 2013 hit “The Conjuring.”

Released earlier this month, the film provides us with the origin story of the horrific possessed doll introduced in the first film as one of the dangerous items stored in the home of real-life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Where “The Conjuring” was refreshingly engaging and surprisingly scary, “Annabelle” fell short. Most reviewers panned the film. It scored a 37 on Metacritic and RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico wrote that the film’s climax was “so misguided, silly and even offensive that any excuse genre fans may be inclined to make for the mediocre hour-and-a half that precedes it will likely turn to rage.”

However, one thing about “Annabelle” thoroughly impressed me: the loving and supportive marriage of the main characters, Mia and John.

Although “The Conjuring” was based on actual events, “Annabelle” is purely fiction.

The story begins in 1969, back when the doll was just a severely ugly toy gifted to a young, pregnant housewife named Mia (Annabelle Wallis) by her husband John (Ward Horton), a medical student on the verge of starting his residency at a California hospital.

The evil forces that eventually possess Annabelle target Mia exclusively. Though John never experiences anything otherworldly, he never makes light of Mia’s feelings. After a horrific crime that takes place in their home is followed by an unusual accident involving stovetop popcorn, Mia demands they move -- a smart decision that most homeowners in supernatural horror films never make -- and John agrees without question. When she tells him about the demonic forces at work, he handles her feelings gingerly and consults the help of their priest.

Though John is definitely the Scully in this situation, never does he patronize Mia or brush aside her feelings. It’s their marriage, along with a friendship that Mia strikes with a local bookstore owner (Alfre Woodard) that gives her a fighting chance against the demons.

Since I never read horror movie reviews before heading to the theater (I like to go in as a blank slate, open to the cheap scares and with no idea whether or not the acting will be more atrocious than the gore), I was caught off guard by the many “Rosemary’s Baby” allusions in the film -- from the main characters' first names (a nod to actors Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) to the film’s 70s-era Satanic cult plotline, presumably inspired by the Manson Family’s murder of director Roman Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate.

I watched “Rosemary’s Baby” for the first time this past year. Because I am one of those people who cannot “separate the art from the artist,” I had avoided the film due to Polanski’s involvement -- but I was thinking of pitching a story about being too desensitized by visceral gore in modern-day horror to be afraid of older genre films and had to watch it.

My theory was correct. The demonic elements of “Rosemary’s Baby” didn’t give me even the slightest chill. What did sit with me was the way that Rosemary was gaslighted and condescended to by everyone from her disloyal husband Guy to her occult-practicing neighbors.

When Rosemary finally realized that she was right -- that her husband and neighbors had, in fact allowed the devil to rape her and she was carrying a demon baby -- she sought the help of an outsider, her former doctor, who immediately assumed that she was hysterical and returned her to the very people endangering her in the first place.

Comparing the two films in this manner helped me to enjoy “Annabelle” more than I would have otherwise. There was none of the sexist things that usually bother me about horror movies in “Annabelle.” In fact, the film’s only saving grace -- outside of the fact that the doll’s creep factor was never cheapened for an easy jump scare -- was that I actually liked the main characters enough to care whether they lived or died.

Which is actually a pretty positive review.